Ripping Yarns: Olly Todd

Words by Olly Todd.

1. Smart Choice

Following an afternoon spent treating the hills of Glasgow as a pseudo San Francisco, the Blueprint team and I found ourselves in one of those city limits off licenses. One of those ones whose merchandise and staff are caged in. One whose surrounding estate and neighbouring shops are boarded up. Whiskey seemed the smart choice. Some crisps. A Curly Wurly.
Earlier I’d spoken to my Dad on the phone.

“We need somewhere to camp for the night, in the Lakes.”

“Head for Haweswater and Gurness Wood,” he said. “It’s not too far off the M6. Junction 40 ish, heading west.”

“Sounds good Dad.”

“Stay out of trouble.”

We exited Glasgow as the day’s light did and glided onto the post rush hour M74 with its tall lamps flickering on sequentially ahead. By Douglas our supplies were dwindling and it was an hour before we, as planned, pulled into a supermarket outside Penrith. While we had aimed solely to procure barbecuable goods and last minute waterproofs, we were now obliged to add further whiskey, wine and beer.
The hamlets flanking Naddle Beck on the shoulder of Haweswater were arcadian even as night fell – their Honister slate buildings appearing blue in the moonrise. We upped and downed humpback bridges and rounded corners; hedgerows fleetingly given their daylight green by our headlights. We continued along the country road until our renegade search finally yielded a decent camping spot.
Back then the sound of a genny clutch clicking and roaring to life sparked excitement in my bones. On instinct I momentarily reached for my board – such was the strength of that sound’s association for me with skating – before realising it was just Magee plugging in the lights to guide us with our tents. Breathing the fresh lakeside air, I stretched my legs and surveyed the scene. It was a beautiful, if highly illegal, pitch. At the foot of a rolling fell our field sloped up gradually then steeply eastwards towards a farmhouse near the summit. Because of the high hedgerows we wouldn’t be visible from the road once our light source was reduced to a small fire. The farmer, then, would present our only problem, either in the shape of his shotgun or a phone call to the police.

Two things soon became clear to me. This was the first time I’d been in my home county of Cumbria with fellow pro skaters one and, two: I was drunker than I had anticipated being. The latter revelation had become undeniable once I’d caught myself leaning over a barbed wire fence conversing earnestly with a small herd of sheep, and trying to feed them whiskey.

“We’re the same, you and me,” I was saying. “I’m just like you; I’ve got nothing either, nothing. NOTHING!”

The final exclamation hurled at the starry sky with a theatrical flinging back of the head. I was edging closer to the parameters of black-out, seeking allies in the local Herdwick population while my human counterparts occupied themselves with bedding down for the night and avoiding my eye lest I lavished them in sycophancy or demanded a lighter for the 17th time. No one had a lighter. “There must be a shop or something around here,” I mumbled, clambering over the gate, onto the road and into the night.


2. Lakeland Morning

“Listen lad, you’re going to have to wait here – the police are on their way.” I was standing in a plush lobby-type room and some bloke was talking to me. It was daylight. I had no idea where I was, or why, or what happened last night.


Under an archway that led to a dining room stood a maid. I’m in a hotel, I thought. Though the dawn’s light, reflected from Haweswater’s surface through the dining room windows silhouetted her and thus obscured her features, I sensed she was deeply worried. Upon hearing the sirens the bloke threw open the front doors and manhandled me down the driveway, the gravel of which crunched under the tyres of the approaching police car.

“Get the fuck off me. Who do you think you are?” I demanded over my shoulder, squinting in a combination of blue flashing lights and morning sunshine.

“I’m the owner of the hotel,” he said as I collided with a wooden sign reading Longlands Green Guesthouse in gold leaf. The policeman stepped out of his car and donned his hat.

“This him John?” He said, before spinning me round and handcuffing me. “Right, I’m arresting you on suspicion of burglary.”

Suddenly last night began hazily replaying on a reel in my head: traipsing through the woods, falling in the river, seeing the hotel appear through the rising lakeland mist, the maid who beckoned me from the balcony. She had had a lighter. We had shared a cigarette. She had led me up the fire escape to an empty room… No wonder she was worried. If I revealed her indiscretion she’d lose her job for sure.

“Leave him to me John, I’ll take him down the station,” the policeman said, pushing my head down and into the back of the car. The maid was on the front steps now and staring pleadingly into my eyes as the car reversed out of the carpark. Once on the road the policeman let a smile creep across his face.

“Where the bloody hell did you spring from then?”

I told him what I could remember about my nocturnal ramblings. I told him about the skate tour, about our camp, and our fears of being rumbled by the farmer or the feds. He told me I could call him Pete and said we wouldn’t be going to the station; that he was just humouring the hotel owner. Amazingly I recognised where we were and in a couple of miles told Pete where to turn off the road.

“This’ll give your mates a fright.”

The boys were packing down the tents and loading the van when we pulled into the field. Everyone’s jaw dropped when they saw the police car. All eyes were on Pete as he got out and greeted them with a stern look and a “Now then lads, what’s all this eh?”

Magee attempted an apology, an explanation.

“Sorry officer we didn’t think, sorry I mean, we just needed somewhere to, I mean, we didn’t know it was illegal to…”

The plea was ignored. Pete simply turned and approached my door. They hadn’t spotted me yet. Fear turned to panic and grew among the assembled Blueprint boys until they saw me emerge from the police car sporting a reassuring smile.

“This is my friend Pete!”

“Look who I found,” said Pete, laughing and unlocking my handcuffs.


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